A few miles north of where I live is the town of Barva de Heredia. Like most towns and cities in Costa Rica, Barva celebrates its Santo Patrono or patron saint with a lot of hoopla. Barva’s saint just happen to be San Bartolomé.
During the yearly celebration there are parades called pasacalles; comparsas or street bands; and mascaradas which are a type of masquerade where barveños (residents of the town) dawn giant paper mache masks among other activities. However, there is one tradition that is only seen in the town of Barva which I will attempt to explain.
What anyone who goes there will experience are masked people running around with inflated cow and pig bladders trying their best to hit others in the back. The bladders are inflated and tied with a black piece of rope which is used to hurl them with a lot of force at others. Those who attend the weekend even know what is in store for them. Many avoid the pain of being hit hard by wearing a back pack which cushions the blow.
As the story goes San Bartolomé became a martyr when a German king ordered him skinned alive. The bladders represent San Bartolomé’s pain.
Barveños start to visit butcher shops as early as a month in advance to get bladders which they throw during the celebration. As the festivivites draw closer the cost of the animal bladders become more expensive because they become more difficult to obtain. The cost of a cow’s bladder runs around 3000 colones or six dollars. A pig’s costs about two dollars or 1000 colones since it is smaller.
If you decide to attend this annual festivity, keep a safe distance from anyone wearing a mask and holding a bladder tied to a string.